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6 Steps to Implementing Cloud Security Automation

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Implementing cloud security automation is essential for safeguarding your team’s cloud environment from the constantly evolving threat landscape. Automating security systems can be daunting, particularly if your team is new to cybersecurity. However, there is a simple six-step process that can lead you from default security protocols to a customized, automated cloud security framework.

1. Evaluation and Risk Assessment

The first step to automating cloud security involves conducting a comprehensive evaluation and risk assessment. Before automating anything, it is essential to gain a clear understanding of how your cloud environment operates. This initial stage will pinpoint key automation opportunities, highlighting vulnerabilities and risk factors. This data will form the basis of your cloud security automation strategy.

If you or your organization have not previously carried out a cybersecurity risk assessment, a basic five-step approach can help avoid confusion. While the risk assessment should cover all of the organization’s systems, it is important to prioritize cloud-related data and infrastructure. Additionally, it is crucial to note that an application can be highly secure but still be considered high risk.

A risk assessment should illuminate the threats facing your organization’s vital data, applications, systems, and infrastructure. Cybersecurity risk rankings indicate potential outcomes in the event of a compromise. Ideally, all high-risk systems and data should be highly protected. Additionally, any findings indicating that something is both high risk and highly vulnerable should be noted.

It is also important at this stage to establish your organization’s objectives for cloud security. After thoroughly reviewing the results of the risk assessment, identify a few measurable areas for improvement. For example, you may want to automate certain system updates using scripting or implement an automated API security scanner.

These objectives will form the foundation of your cloud security automation strategy. It may also be beneficial to prioritize a few goals from highest to lowest, providing a starting point for your team to focus on as you begin implementing automated cloud security solutions.

2. Expand Cloud Visibility

An essential aspect of effective cybersecurity is visibility, but in a cloud environment, it can be easy to overlook things due to its distributed nature. Effectively securing the cloud requires expanding your visibility of your cloud resources.

During the risk assessment stage, you may have identified risks or opportunities that were previously unknown. These are indications that you need to enhance the visibility of your cloud environment. Establishing a cloud asset management platform can consolidate all your cloud resources into a central hub for monitoring.

A cloud asset management platform serves as a control center for your cloud environment, encompassing all devices, applications, services, servers, and systems running in your cloud environment, along with critical data such as usage statistics.

It is important to include physical devices in your management platform. While the focus may often be on software when working with the cloud, an increasing number of cloud systems rely on input from physical technologies, which may also depend on the cloud to operate effectively.

For instance, IoT devices are great for automating data collection from sensors but are also highly susceptible to DDoS attacks and often suffer from poor visibility due to weak default security parameters. Therefore, it is crucial to have heightened visibility of IoT devices’ activity and connections to ensure strong security.

Several pre-built cloud asset management platforms are available today, although building your own is also feasible. However, it is advisable to check with your cloud provider before purchasing or building a management platform, as they may offer one as part of your subscription, or have a partnership or discount available for third-party management platforms.

3. Automated Cloud Security Basics

Once you have a clear understanding of the primary risks and priorities in your cloud environment and a means of monitoring all of it, you can commence implementing automation. A good starting point is to implement basic automated cloud security measures, covering high-risk gaps and establishing a minimum security level for the entire cloud environment.

For instance, every cloud environment should make use of encryption, which is offered to some extent by most leading cloud providers today. It is essential to encrypt your cloud data in transit, at rest, and in use. This ensures the protection of your data from unauthorized usage, even if it is intercepted or compromised at any stage.

While encryption does not automate any processes, it ensures the safety of data as it moves through your cloud environment. This allows for the implementation of automated strategies with reduced concerns about potentially jeopardizing your data.

Another crucial security measure to implement through automation is automated cloud data backups. While data backups to the cloud are becoming increasingly common, it is also important to backup data that is already in the cloud. Automating regular backups is an integral part of any disaster recovery plan, which includes preparation for natural disasters and cyber-attacks.

Although the cloud is more resilient to natural disasters than on-premises servers, accidents can still occur. Whether as a result of a cyber-attack or an unfortunate accident, losing critical data leads to approximately 60% of small businesses shutting down within six months of the loss. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your cloud data is backed up in a different server location than the data center from which your cloud resources usually operate. It may even be beneficial to store backups in on-premises data storage. The key is to ensure that backups occur autonomously at scheduled intervals.

Access control is the third essential protocol to implement before scaling up security automation. Preventing unauthorized users from traversing cloud environments is all too easy due to their scattered and untethered nature. Effective access control automates the process of denying access to unauthorized users and accounts.

4. Implement Case-Specific Cloud Security Automation

With some basic cloud security measures in place, more complex processes can be automated. At this stage, it is important to refer back to the goals established in the initial step of the cloud security automation process. Use those goals to identify what to automate first, focusing on one or two new integrations at a time.

During this stage, your team will automate higher-risk, more complex security protocols beyond the basics. Each organization’s cloud security automation strategy will vary significantly based on unique risk factors and cloud environments.

For instance, your team may heavily utilize APIs in its workflows. APIs are beneficial for facilitating seamless interactions between different applications and services but can also pose significant security risks. Fortunately, API security scans can be automated to ensure the trustworthiness of the tools being used. Workload security scans can also be automated.

Similarly, MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) and 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) can be used to automate identity verification and bolster access control. Scripting is another valuable cloud security automation tool that can be applied. Scripting can automate repetitive security processes such as configuration or server updates.

Specific circumstances may also warrant unique cloud security automation tactics. For example, if some team members work remotely, unique cloud security risks are faced. Muli-factor authentication and automated security updates using scripting would be particularly useful in such a situation.

If there is a need to automate specific processes on certain cloud applications but not others, the cloud environment can be divided into isolated segments. This can be done without requiring a private cloud. A hypervisor can be used to create a remote server in any cloud environment, including shared public clouds.

A virtual private server enables the customization of the security protocols for different segments of the cloud environment. In fact, segmenting cloud resources can even enhance cybersecurity, preventing unauthorized access to the entirety of your cloud resources and limiting the potential impact of a cyber-attack.

5. Integrate Automated Threat Monitoring

Threat monitoring is a crucial component of any cloud security automation strategy. It is best to implement automated threat monitoring without any distractions as it is a high-risk process. When entrusting an AI to oversee your cloud environment, it is essential to dedicate time and effort to ensure that a reliable algorithm is utilized.

Many organizations are presently embracing AI tools, including cybersecurity algorithms. Running AI in the cloud allows for the utilization of these tools without the need for intensive on-premises computing resources. While AI can be beneficial for employees, customers, maintenance, security, and more, it also comes with certain risks.

For instance, poorly trained AI models can be hampered by outdated data, compromised data, or data bias. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly research an AI model and its developer before investing in any AI security tools. Look for an algorithm that has been trained on a large dataset and receives regular updates, as timely updates are essential for preventing zero-day attacks.

Once a suitable AI threat monitoring program for your cloud environment has been identified, it is advisable to schedule a pilot program. This can be done by automating threat monitoring in one segment of your cloud environment and continuing manual monitoring in others. The algorithm’s performance should be closely monitored and analyzed during this testing phase.

If the algorithm proves to be more effective than manual monitoring, AI can be integrated into your cloud environment. However, if the algorithm’s performance is unsatisfactory, it is important to explore other AI threat monitoring tools. Taking the time to find a model that offers the best possible protection for your cloud resources is crucial.

6. Track, Evaluate, and Adjust

After integrating a new automated cloud security measure, it is important to carefully track and evaluate its performance. Ideally, automated tools should save time and identify more suspicious activity. If a particular measure is causing harm to the network or proves to be impractical, time should be dedicated to adjusting it or replacing it with a different automated security tool.

Automating security in the cloud is an ongoing process that necessitates regular evaluation sessions to assess success and identify areas in need of updating. It is important to bear in mind that the cloud threat landscape is constantly evolving. Some automation solutions may eventually become outdated or obsolete. Therefore, it is essential to closely monitor security news and emerging threats, analyzing the automation strategy for ways to stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Automating Security in the Cloud

As more operations, businesses, tools, and computing environments shift to the cloud, establishing robust cloud security automation becomes increasingly critical. The six steps outlined above can be utilized to transition from minimal cloud security to a resilient and adaptable automated cloud security system. Continual improvement is key to adapting to emerging threats, so it is advisable to repeat this process periodically and closely monitor the performance of automated security measures.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Ola Dapo; Pexels; Thank you!

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